Updated: Feb 18
“There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton
Here's a lovely shot of Marianne that I took a little while back for a large biotech client. I knew it was going to be an interesting shoot, as, during the recce for the shoot, the client and I spotted the atrium with the light pendants. The Man Ray print of Kiki de Montparnasse in the Background was perfectly positioned. I hope you enjoy the image - C
The Set Up: Where to start with this image? Firstly, it pays to have clients that know what they are doing. This took quite a while to set up, and their patience was key to it's creation. There are four light sources that required both balancing, for both exposure and colour. These were the downlighters, a large window, off to the left, that's flooding in the daylight, the globes themselves and two Bowens flash heads. In addition to this there were two white circular reflectors adding fill and catch lights, as required. The brief required us to see Marianne, and the reflections of the globes, in the glass, but nothing more. The Man Ray print on the wall in the background adds to the image, with both it's subject matter, and the fact that it's black and white, as its lack of colour focuses attention away from Kiki towards Marianne. Of course, the relaxed look that Marianne is selling in here is the opposite of the moment. She is standing on a storage crate, leaning over the balustrade, a little too high for her comfort. The glass is pressing in to her arms and her hair is falling over her shoulder, every other shot! The hair stylist is standing just out of shot, holding a hair brush, a can of hairspray, and one of the reflectors, while the assistant keeps his eye on the flash packs, whilst taking exposure readings, as the sun is in and out, requiring constant settings changes. And, all of this on a borrowed Sony A7R MkII body! (Thanks Ian). As you would expect, there is quite of a lot of post production on this shot, including cleaning up the reflection of the model.
This shoot marks my transition from medium format to full frame mirrorless. (FYI: I took my full Hasselblad kit, including digital back to this shoot, as a back up... and never used it!) At this point I wasn't a 100% confident with the Sony Alpha system.
Pixel Peepers' Notes and Newbie Hints & Tips Camera: Sony A7R Mk II - Lens: Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS @ 70mm f5.6/160/ISO500 Model: Marianne S Assistant: Alasdair Sandy Make Up Artist: Katrina Tuktareva
This shot is from the first pro-shoot I did with a Sony Alpha camera. (2017) I was a Hasselblad shooter before this, using my long trusted V series 503cw with a CFV39 digital back, but for some time my eyesight had been telling me that I needed to "go auto focus". I think Alasdair, my assistant, was bored with me asking him to put a magazine cover by the side of the model's face, so that I had some text on which to focus! By the end of my hassy days I was using a rare x2 viewfinder that Hasselblad had developed for the space programme! Enter a borrowed Sony mirrorless kit. At the time I shot this I was clueless as to how to manipulate the settings on the Sony menu system. It was a borrowed A7R II with an FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS (a kit lens). I was so paranoid about messing up what was a very big commercial shoot that I set the camera to "manual mode" and took light readings using my Minolta IV light meter... A7RII 28-70mm @70mm - f5.6 - 1/60th - ISO500 - Manual Mode. Interestingly, the file info says that the flash didn't fire... It did!
Sony User Group Member Info: Some friendly advice to newbies and others on the Sony Alpha Groups, especially those they may be struggling to scratch together a budget... There's always a lot of talk about lens quality and lens sharpness on some of the Sony Facebook groups in which I participate and contribute towards. The buzz is phrenetic. Experts thrust their opinions and they are immediately parried by the dissenting crowd. It always entertaining and It's the main reason why I have rewritten some of the content below in this post. Recently I've noticed that our little communities have begun to care less and less about the sensibilities and circumstances of others. So I thought I'd make an effort with a good news story of making use of the kit that you've got, and not being pressured by others that appear to have it all. If you are struggling for budget for that latest lens I've cobbled together some information that may help you improve, whilst you are saving up the pennies/cents/euros (other currencies are welcomed too) for that new lens. And if you are not struggling you are more than welcome too. Of course, everyone is welcome. I wanted to give newbies and others a 100% 1:1 image reference that illustrates how well this "Non-Premium" Sony lens performed when I used it on a professional job, back in 2017:
Above is the cropped file in a zip archive. Feel fee to download it so that you can see the image at 100% 1:1 on your own system.
Firstly, the shot of Marianne is absolutely not as sharp as the GM lenses that I now use, and, as I'm sure you'll agree, it absolutely does not matter. FYI: This image file was used for printed brochures, a huge12 foot poster, and, exhibition stands at international medical conferences. It was the prominent image on the home page of the company website for over a year. It was shot on a Sony Kit Lens. Currently available on ebay.co.uk for around £150 / US$200 / 175euro I earned commercial London rates using this lens, and so can you.
But the lens I have is crap. That's what everyone in the groups say? Not all opinion about lenses that you may read in Facebook Groups is sound. You should the "advice" with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, it's mostly "received wisdom" that has been passed around again and again with the same echo chamber getting louder and louder everytime time it changes hands. You should apply Occam's Razor to everything you hear in Groups and blogs, including this.
"If it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck... It's usually a duck"
If someone gives you advice and you are unsure if it may help or hinder you. If you are struggling to pay for that camera body, let alone the new lens, click on the helper's profile and check out both the images and the information they have contributed to the group... Some people are well meaning, but do not realise that the groups have members that cannot afford the latest kit. Recently I have been appalled by comments like, "well, it's an expensive hobby dude" recently. Being courteous should be the default, but unfortunately it isn't. Rocket science, it ain't! Damned inconsiderate it is.
Remember, just because Sony release a newer model lens, older lenses do not "go out of date". Here's a point that you should consider when someone tells you that your image is soft: If you are posting on social media the quality of your Sony Lens will almost certainly not play a part in the perceived quality of the image. At 3:2 the full frame camera that shot this image produces a file that is 7952x5304 = 42177408 or 42mp - Facebook allows a 2048x1365 = 2795520 or 2.7mp as the largest possible upload file size (if you upload a larger file they resize it and throw away the pixels their compressor chooses.) That's 6.6% of the original pixels in this case. Further to this, these pixels have had the colour depth reduced. And, the file that you are viewing has been compressed... twice, firstly by your RAW processor when you converted it to an sRGB JPEG and secondly by Facebook's famously useless compression routine recompressed and resized it. Now tell me that you are still concerned that your lens is not as sharp as the latest SIGMA/TAMRON/SONY GM lens... If Facebook is the only place to which you are posting your current lens is as sharp as it needs to be.
Using charts to point out what lens is better than another serves no purpose to photographers that are just setting out. Salty old pros and experienced hobbyists know this to be true. Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I agree with the charts. hey are highly accurate references. If DxO say one lens is sharper than another, it's sharper. If they say the auto focus is quicker, it's quicker, etc etc and if you and me are getting £1500 a day to shoot for a blue chip corporate, or international brand, I want the GM lenses please! But some members have to stop telling others that the lenses they are using are obsolete! If this is you, please use some nuance and moderation in your comments and responses. Help a fellow shooter out. Share some knowledge. Make someone's day by passing on a titbit you were given when you started. A random example of a recent trend in Sony Groups: In our Sony Ecosystem a 200-600 G lens looks like the best option for birds in flight. I don't know this to be true because I don't have, or need one, but the buzz around it is clearly authentic and so it has become the item of desire. If you need it, and you have the budget to buy it... my advice is buy it as soon as you can... post your images and enjoy it, but telling others that the lenses they have are crap by comparison is both crass and unkind. Not everyone does this, and I'm neither judge nor jury. I'm merely pointing out what we all see all too often, time and again.
Here's some advice for shooters that don't have the budget for the latest lens? Work the lens(es) that you have harder. Be creative. Get closer. Fire the shutter remotely. Learn more about the birds, buy a cheap camouflage hide. Spend more time editing the keepers and ask reliable, friendly bird shooters for help and advice. Be honest and direct with your questions. If you get knocked back. Move on. Don't let it get to you. I can assure you, when you do get your budget together, that 200-600 G Lens is gonna be so easy to use, because you will be salty, and able to utilise the best aspects of the lens immediately, because you'll have learned what you are doing when it was harder to achieve good results. That's what makes a good photographer. If you don't believe me, I refer you to the number a shooters in the groups asking how they can get more keepers whilst using the 200-600 G? It's never just the lens that makes the shot...
This could all be nonsense. Test it for yourself. Run your shots through your own workflow. Don't have a workflow? Start one today. Write down a list of the steps from shooting to producing a fantastic image from a file that you shot on your Sony Camera. That's your workflow. It should continually change and morph as you get to know more.
If you don't have time to test or time to create a workflow, you're not serious about your progression.
Shoot regularly. Be brutal with your critique of your own work. Only post your best work. Predict the critical responses of others before you post in groups, and then compare your own critique to what others say once you have posted. By doing this you will become adept at predicting what your clients will say, when you start undertaking some paying work. Ignore comments like "it's too dark" or "I don't know why, but I don't like the crop?" Constructive Criticism (cc) should be nuanced. It should take in to consideration context, culture, creativity and it should be written in an understanding and empathetic tone. It's easy to spot the people who haven't got a clue and, as sure as eggs is eggs... haters gonna hate. Once again I would refer you to the contributions of those that comment with consideration for others. It's an instant eye opener when your view their profiles. There are lots of people in the groups that want to help, with widely varying degrees of knowledge. Google the answers they give to see if there's others that can confirm the same view... But, mostly plunge their responses into your own crucible of experience and test it for yourself. As previously stated: "If it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck... It's usually a duck" But I need that 200-600 G?
It's an item of desire to be sure. But no one needs it. Hire one to see if it's what you want, but most importantly, remember, when lenses are upgraded by Sony the lenses you already own will not stop working. Last time I looked at my, "apparently" out of date GM lenses there was no "sell-by" date or "best before" date on the side of the barrel. I looked through the manuals and couldn't find the section that dealt with shooting all the actuations before Jan 2021. Spending more on the latest lens may improve your images, but if you think it will have a significant influence, it will not. Improving your technique will. So, with this in mind, here's are 3 challenges for newbies...
3 easy to remember pro tips that may help you progress, without that expensive lens upgrade: (Assuming you have a wide, standard and telephoto lens you are good to go... The zoom lens used to shoot the image above just about covers all three lenses in one: Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS)
1: Better Portraits: Using your existing portrait lens. Try to shoot your next portrait from slightly above the model's head. Line up the barrel of the lens with the model's forehead and get the model to look up, only ever so slightly.
Why? By doing this the model's face becomes more almond shaped... Instantly! Their face appears slimmer and the chin more pointed. I see so many portraits shot from below the model's face on the groups. This has a tendency to the model look tense and uneasy. When shooting with models and customers make sure they are relaxed first. Sit ans chat with them about a subject you have in common. Ask them to lean slightly in to the shots, not back. You are about to shoot them with a Sony A7 not an AK47. And finally, if you've ever been on a pro shoot you'll hear the term "chin down" about a hundred times during the shoot, and it should be you saying it when you shoot with people too. Shoot from SLIGHTLY above, as just described, and get the model to keep their chin down, SLIGHTLY. Boom! Now you know. Question me on this... Apply Occam's Razor... Test it for yourself. Make up your own mind whether this is a guideline worth saving for later?
2: Landscapes: Using your existing telephoto lens. The longer the better. Try leaving the wide angle lens in your bag. Do not follow the hard and fast rule of background, middle ground, foreground subject matter. There are plenty of snappers gobbling up this type of image. You can get to that later. Be different. Shoot long. Use the compression that the telephoto lens will bring to the composition. Find repeat patterns in the landscape like field boundaries or crops, or terraced houses, or jungle roads. Line up those yacht masts or lampposts, or oak trees and palms, Line'em up like soldiers. Imagine objects as groups of people and shoot them like portraits. Compose in camera. Can't see what you want in the EVF? Crouch lower. Go up those steps for a higher vantage point. Walk that little bit further up the hill, so you can see the road wind away from you and drag that road into the camera frame using a long lens. Use the rear screen and place the camera low to the ground. Push it up close to the rock with the screen tilted to get the shot that one else has. You are already fully equipped with two items of useful items of kit that should last a lifetime. The Mark I Eyeball. Developed over 80,000 years, it's very useful for looking and seeing. Most of us have two of these. They are positioned either side of the top of your nose, use them. No condescension is intended with this statement. I sometimes need to remind myself to be present in the EVF. Really look... ask yourself the question, "How can this view be improved?" Find that tree to stand under so that the leave frame that cityspace/seascape/mountain range/jungle. Secondly, Mark II Legs. This kit is very useful for changing the position of the camera's viewpoint. These work in a similar way to zoom lenses. The closer you walk towards the subject, the larger it gets in the frame. The further you step back, the more of the landscape you get in the frame. Once again, it's simple stuff like this that separates professional photographers from amateurs, All pros and experienced hobbyists know this. Note: If you are not in possession of functioning legs I'm gonna assume that you have at least 2 wheels if not 4, so there's even less of an excuse not to move quicker and further than the slower bipeds. On a serious note if you are in a wheel chair and need to get higher monopods and tilting screen are very useful for this. You can fire the shutter using a phone or an electronic cable release. Boom! Now you know. Question me on this... Apply Occam's Razor... Test it for yourself. Make up your own mind whether this is a guideline worth saving for later?
3: Architecture: Switch on the thirds grid on the external screen of the camera and refer to them, every frame. Either keep the verticals straight, or, with exaggeration, deliberately skew and rotate them. When testing be aggressive with your skews and tilts. Really tilt the camera to emphasis interesting architectural details. Go either wide and skewed, or, long and straight. Never slightly skewed or slightly converging/diverging verticals! No tilt/shift lens? No problem. Step back, give yourself some space in the frame, around the subject. Shoot it 1/2 to 2/3 the size it would normally be in the frame. Once shot, use the distort tool in Photoshop, or similar, to stand up the verticals. The shots will look like they are taken on a 5x4 plate camera. You'll need to crop around a 1/3 of the image to square it up and no one will know.
If you are lucky enough to have an R camera you can be bolder. If you don't, you'll need to work harder to balance out how many pixels you'll lose when you crop...
Next thing you'll know you'll be discussing different types of black and white paper and discussing the Scheimpflug principle.
Boom! Now you know. Question me on this... Apply Occam's Razor... Test it for yourself. Make up your own mind whether this is a guideline worth saving for later?
I hope the newbies among you find some of this useful and maybe a little amusing. I quite liked the A7, AK47 line. After 35 years of doing this I have accumulated some knowledge, some of it useful, and I am more than happy to share it like this when I can. If it's not useful there's plenty more out there in the groups.
A last note for people tight on budgets: It's an expensive business and we all want great kit. Some people start from a standing position. That does not mean they should get down hearted about it. You can join a club to get access to kit. Assist a pro. Learn from them. Get salty on ebay to get that bargain first body. Use the workstation at college or work to process your images. Hire kit for a day. Plan ahead. Assemble some like minded snappers and split the cost of hiring kit. That way you get to test two lenses for half a day. Trust me when I say I know what it's like. In 1973 this was my first camera.
...at a time when this was available worldwide:
1973: My mum paid for my first roll of film to be processed. I got the camera from a Jumble Sale/Yard Sale at a local church hall, organised by the local scouts. I was restricted to one roll of film per school term. That's 3 rolls of film per year, as processing black and white film at the Chemists/Drug Store was too expensive for her, as a single mother of 3 boys. Don't get frustrated if you don't have the budget, you'll find a way to get the shots that you want. If I can have a successful career in photography spanning 35 years, having started life from a council estate/the projects, so can you. Here's a shot from that very first roll of film I ever shot in 1973. I was 12 when I took this. I hope it encourages you to continue and not be discouraged by limited budgets and negative remarks - C